hopes and memories


Megren’s Father’s Hut
Eastern Archenland


Megren has pulled the little table into the middle of the room and pulled the tall legs from their sockets to fit it with shorter ones so they can sit on the warm ground. The lantern sits on the middle of the table, lit.

Lanisen has picked up one of the tall legs and is inspecting the end that fits into the table with interest. “Lots of good ideas, your da,” he remarks.

Megren says, “He likes puzzling through things.”

Lanisen asks curiously, “What else has he done?”

Megren says, “Um, I don’t know. I think he helped Reina’s family get their equipment in better order for all the small hands. It’s, sometimes I’m not sure if he made something up or if it’s something everybody uses. The table, I think that’s pretty usual, people making tables that way, but they don’t usually ever take the legs back out.”

Lanisen nods thoughtfully and sets the leg gently aside with the others. “It’s smart, though. Havin’ the short ones, for here. I dunno that it would be as nice anywhere else.”

Megren says, “Yeah. Maybe for festivals, so you could have tables at children’s heights; that’s the only other use I can think.”

Lanisen says, “Mm. Yeah, maybe.” He pauses, considering the table’s height. “Or hounds.”

Megren squints an eye at him.

Lanisen shrugs, laughing under his breath. “Dogs /love/ food on tables. It’s at least twice as good as food in the regular dish.”

Megren looks like she’s not too thrilled with this idea.

Lanisen shrugs again and lifts his hands.

Megren says, “I’ll ask him to make you a dog table.”

Lanisen laughs again. “Obliged.” He runs his hand over the warm floor.

Megren picks up the kettle she’s left sitting on the floor to stay warm and tops off her tea cup, then extends it in a silent offer.

Lanisen says, “Thanks,” and fills his again. He pulls his sleeves down as a barrier between his skin and the hot tin, then cups his hands around the mug contentedly.

Megren says, “If only we had a set of cubes.”

Lanisen gets an odd, sheepishly secretive look on his face at this, but he volunteers, “I brought mine that you had made in Lancelyn Green. It’s not a full set, but…”

Megren hmms, tapping her lower lip. “Dares aren’t very fun without an audience or interesting food.”

Lanisen screws up his face regretfully. “Oh well.”

Megren says, “What else could we do.”

Lanisen says, “Questions, I s’pose, but there’s four more faces after that.”

Megren says, “Could be kinds of questions.”

Lanisen asks, “Kinds, like…?”

Megren ticks off on her fingers thoughtfully. “A question about the past, a question about the future, a question about the present? Or… an easy question, a hard question, and… hm.”

Lanisen says, “The first set sounds easier.”

Megren nods once. “Choose your colors, then.”

Lanisen considers. “Green, white, yellow.”

Megren says, “All right. Red’s past, purple’s present, blue’s future, for me.”

Lanisen says, “Then green for past, white for present, yellow for future for me.

Megren says, “If you had yellow present, our presents would make up Anvard.”

Lanisen snorts out loud. “All right, yellow present, white future.”

Megren nods, satisfied.

Lanisen reaches out to drag his satchel closer, digging through the side pocket until he makes a satisfied sound and holds up the cube. He sets it on the table between them.

Megren asks, “Who goes first?”

Lanisen says, “I don’t care, you pick.”

Megren picks up the cube and rolls a red.

Lanisen leans forward and rests his elbows on the table. “Past?” he asks to confirm.

Megren nods.

Lanisen taps the tabletop with one fingertip for a moment. “Did you ever have a pet when you were small? Dog, cat, squirrel?”

Megren shakes her head. “Nothing, not like pets in the castle, anyway. A couple birds and squirrels that da helped me set feeders for. There was one squirrel that kept stealing our sparrow feed. A fox that liked to get into the larder. For a while, when I was,” she tilts her head. “Ten to twelve, maybe, there was this deer who’s mama another hunter’d hit by accident.” Her mouth screws up punishingly and she shakes her head to indicate her disdain for the hunter. “He had a broken antler somehow; we’re not sure from what. A fight maybe, to show he could hold his own. He was a bit sickly, there was another young buck that watched out for him. Da let me feed him because he was bad at scrapping for food in the winters. He’d come about as close as you are. I think he would’ve eaten out of my hand, but da said it was bad to train him like that because then he’d get stupid around other humans that didn’t know what they were doing.”

Lanisen’s head tilts on the side as he listens. “Always thought that’d be nice, be on friendly terms with a deer,” he says once she has finished. “‘S too bad you couldn’t let him get closer.”

Megren says, “It was probably better for me. Wild animals aren’t the same, and I think I would’ve started feel too safe if I got to thinking I could tame them.”

Lanisen hmms, looking at the table.

Megren screws up her face at him and then, when it seems they may have exhausted the question, nudges the cube toward him.

Lanisen glances at the cube. He picks it up, tosses it lightly in his hand, and drops it on the table. It lands yellow side up.

Megren claps her hands together. “Oh good. What’s yellow? Right, present. Hm.”

Lanisen sits back, switching to a more comfortable position.

Megren runs her two forefingers over her lips thoughtfully. “Hmm… not picking Nia, which dog is your favorite, and why?”

Lanisen says, “Oh, that’s not a fair question at /all/.””

Megren says, “Is too.”

Lanisen says, “How’m I s’posed to pick, ugh.”

Megren says, “That’s the game.”

Lanisen groans loudly. He tips his head back to stare at the ceiling. “Um. Tohol.”

Megren asks, “Why?”

Lanisen says, “‘Cause he’s… ’cause I had to /earn/ him, I guess.”

Megren asks, “Hm? How?”

Lanisen says, “He was– mm. Not wild, exactly, but– he was scrappy, and he was scared of stuff. He used to lash out a lot, there’s– you know, play-fightin’ and fightin’-fightin’, he’d /fight/-fight. He wasn’t born in the castle, see.”

Megren asks, “What, really? Where was he born?”

Lanisen squints, trying to remember. “I dunno where Danall got him, he was there before I came to the castle. He trades out for new hounds a lot, you know, it keeps there from being trouble with the breeding.”

Megren says, “Oh, I didn’t know. Of course, though.”

Lanisen says, “Anyway, it was– he was scared and new, and I was scared and new, and we didn’t get on at first but Danall set me to workin’ with him and then it…” He shrugs. “It took a long time, and it was real frustrating, but I learned, and he learned, and now he’s…”

Megren nods. “I see what you mean.”

Lanisen says, “He’s a good, kind hound, he’s– you should see him with Danall’s kids. But he’s smart huntin’ too, he’s valuable as part of the pack, it’s, I’m proud.”

Megren smiles. “Good. See? That wasn’t /so/ terrible.”

Lanisen huffs. “It was /pretty/ terrible.” He picks up the cube and rolls blue.

Megren pulls an overtly neutral face while he thinks.

Lanisen says, “What… do you most want to happen, when you’re a knight?”

Megren blinks. “Oh.” She pauses. “I don’t know.” She screws up her mouth to mull it over.

Lanisen says, “What do you want to do, I guess.”

Megren says, “I want to… help people. There’s, you know there’s going after criminals and fighting battles and all that, and that’s fine, but a lot of the knights, they go out and survey the land, make sure the farmers are safe and have what they need, or travelers aren’t in trouble or if there’s a fire or a flood they go out and help the people clean up. That’s what I want to do.”

Lanisen nods to this, playing idly with the cube. “I think… that sounds exactly like you.”

Megren’s eyes crinkle up pleasantly.

Lanisen says, his eyes still on the table, “I think you’re gonna… well. You already do, you already have, but… you’re gonna do a lot of really good things, I think.”

Megren colors warmly. “I hope so. I really — I hope so.”

Lanisen grins, a small proud smile, and glances up at her.

Megren releases a breath and reaches for the cube. She rolls another red and gives him a suspicious look.

Lanisen watches the cube, then grins a quick gleeful grin, glancing at her again. “Ahh, hmm.” He thinks, then asks, “What’s your favorite memory?”

Megren says, “Favorite…? Um… hm. I don’t — hm. Be more specific.”

Lanisen pulls his right knee up and loops his arms around it, turning his body so he’s sitting parallel to the table. “Okay, if… hm. If you’re feeling discouraged or sad or lonely, do you have a memory you like to think about then?”

Megren tilts her head. “I suppose… hm. I guess I never thought to do that. I go to people or places when I’m sad. Is that what you do?”

Lanisen shrugs. “It helps to find somethin’ else to think on, for me.”

Megren asks, “What do you think of?”

Lanisen takes a deep breath and shrugs again. “Depends.”

Megren asks, “Did you with Aaron?”

Lanisen’s eyes dart briefly to her and then away. He nods.

Megren nods once, thoughtful, but not wishing to push too hard. “It helped?”

Lanisen hesitates, chewing the inside of his lip and staring at the top of his knee. “I couldn’t… really think too well, for a lot of it, but–” He swallows, and shrugs one shoulder, and nods.

Megren asks, “Is it still a good memory? What you thought of?”

Lanisen again pauses, a complicated expression on his face. But he finally nods.

Megren nods back.

Lanisen draws a breath. “That was s’posed to be a question for you, how’d it get on me?” he asks, trying for playful.

Megren accepts the change in topic pretty easily. “Sorry. I’ll try it the next time.”

Lanisen says, “You can roll again, if you like. I think I went twice in a row.”

Megren picks up the cube and rolls it again, landing a green.

Lanisen watches the roll and looks up at her.

Megren says, “Tell me something from before you left home.”

Lanisen shifts. “Like what?”

Megren says, “Anything. Something you feel comfortable telling.”

Lanisen rubs his bad shoulder in circular motions, frowning distantly. After a moment’s thought, he says, “Our dog’s name was Moss, she was one of those… she was big, with fur over her eyes, a herding dog. She herded me and Cass, too, when we were little. She didn’t like us going near the creek.”

Megren asks, “You had a creek, too?”

Lanisen says, “Yeah, it was– we lived up close to the road, up high, but down the hill there’s a creek. Just a little one, but we weren’t allowed near it in springtime.”

Megren nods. “What happened to Moss?”

Lanisen’s eyes cut away. “I dunno. She was gettin’ to be old when I left.” He takes a deep breath. “She might’ve stayed with the land when they sold it. The flock knew her and she was a good herder.”

Megren says, “Oh. I didn’t know they sold it.”

Lanisen says, “Neighbors bought it, near as I could figure. It’s still good land, they just couldn’t– my da couldn’t work, and my brother was gone, and me, so.”

Megren asks, “Where’s your brother?”

Lanisen says, “Oh.” He shifts position, not quite looking at her. “Um, he’s– he died. ‘Bout three, four months before I ran off.”

Megren’s brows lift. “Oh. I’m sorry, I didn’t — I’m sorry.”

Lanisen shakes his head slightly. “It’s– I don’t really, I don’t talk about it, it’s not…” He picks a loose thread off his sleeve and kneads at his shoulder, fidgety. “It was a lot of years ago.”

Megren asks, “Is it–” she pauses. “Can I ask?”

Lanisen says, “Yeah.”

Megren asks, “What happened?”

Lanisen says, “Um, it was… he got, he got sick. We all did but it hit him bad, he just, um.” His face screws up with a tired, familiar pain. “Um, he– fell asleep? That was, that was it, and he died a few weeks later.” He pauses. “It was morning, Mum had bread baking.”

Megren says, “I’m sorry.”

Lanisen drops his hand from his shoulder and folds his arms over his stomach. “Thanks.”

Megren asks, “What was his name?”

Lanisen answers softly, “Lanton.”

Megren asks, “How old?”

Lanisen says, “Nineteen, he was nineteen.”

Megren asks, “What was he like?”

Lanisen says, “Funny. Loud. He laughed a lot.” He exhales. “Um, I was– I was always fightin’ with my parents over somethin’, seemed like, he always– we’d talk, and then he’d talk to them, and somehow things would work out.”

Megren nods quietly. “And then you left?”

Lanisen looks down. “Yeah.”

Megren’s mouth pulls down and to the right. “How old were you?”

Lanisen says, “I was– I left right after I turned sixteen.”

Megren asks, “Cass must’ve been… what, ten?”

Lanisen nods to confirm this.

Megren asks, “Do you think of him often?”

Lanisen lifts his shoulders. “It’s been– it’s been almost ten years. Not as much as I did, I guess, but maybe– more than I should, maybe.”

Megren shakes her head. “You honor him by your memory.”

Lanisen pushes the heel of his hand into his shoulder and nods.

Megren pushes her mouth to the side and then ventures, “If you ever… if you want to think of him out loud, you can. You don’t have to… you don’t have to trap it inside your head, unless that’s where you want to keep it.”

Lanisen looks at her and finds a small, lopsided smile. “Thanks. You too, if– your mum, if you ever…”

Megren nods, mirroring his expression back.

Lanisen’s eyes drop to the cube on the table between them. He lets out a small rueful breath and looks away. “That was, that was a heavy one, sorry.”

Megren wrinkles her nose. “Yeah, I think I owe you a good one now.”

Lanisen confesses, “I don’t know what to ask.”

Megren nudges the cube toward him to help.

Lanisen laughs under his breath and picks it up. It lands yellow-up and he frowns and rolls again, getting purple.

Megren says, “Present.”

Lanisen looks at the cube consideringly. “What’s somethin’ you’re hoping for?”

Megren screws up her face. “You already asked that with the knight, I don’t know how to answer that.”

Lanisen says, “What, that’s not the same.”

Megren screws up her face despairingly.

Lanisen mirrors the expression back at her. “Fine,” he says. “What’s something that would make you happy if it happened in the next week?”

Megren laughs. “I don’t–! I don’t know, a cheese bun.”

Lanisen snorts out loud with laughter. “All right, here,” he says. “What’s… in the next week, what’s something I could do, or stop doing, or make happen, that would make you happy?” He pauses. “No food.” He pauses again. “Or hair.”

Megren laughs again. “/Lanisen/, I don’t, I don’t know! I already am happy.”

Lanisen says, “I /know/ you’re happy, but– you can be having a perfectly happy day and see a puppy and then it’s even happier, so?”

Megren says, “All right, you could bring me a puppy, then.”

Lanisen makes a face at her. “I can’t produce puppies on demand.”

Megren exclaims, “You are making this very specific!”

Lanisen grins unrepentantly.

Megren sighs, put-upon. “/I/ don’t know. A hug.”

Lanisen says, “Oh! That’s easy,” and gets up immediately to oblige.

Megren curls up into a ball to make this hard on him.

Lanisen sits back down and says cheerfully, “I’ll wait.”

Megren drops her arms and gives him a rueful look.

Lanisen says, “But I’ve just sat down again!”

Megren says, “Yes, good, don’t get back up.”

Lanisen squints at her.

Megren lifts a finger to indicate he should stay. “I feel I have been coerced into answering.”

Lanisen says, “The nature of the game.”

Megren makes a face and picks up the cube. She rolls another purple.

Lanisen complains, “You don’t like my questions.”

Megren says, “All right, new rule, you can’t use the word hope.”

Lanisen scowls.

Megren smiles prettily.

Lanisen asks, “What’s it like livin’ in the barracks?”

Megren exclaims, “Oh! Hm.” She draws her knee back up and places her chin on it. “Well, you’ve been in there during the siege, right.”

Lanisen says, “Well, yeah.”

Megren says, “Not as busy as that, obviously.”

Lanisen says, “I’d hope not.”

Megren says, “The guards have shifts, though, right, so there’s always a bit of shuffling. Somebody who can’t sleep because they were up on midnight watch the night before; somebody getting ready to go out. It took me… probably a month to settle into it. It’s not that loud, actually, but it seemed loud. You can hear the outer ward and the road pretty well from the barracks, too, you know, just, different from sleeping in a place like this.”

Lanisen nods, listening. “Does it bother you, all the people?”

Megren shakes her head. “No. I sort of — I sort of like it. It’s nice to… get to know people’s routines and feel them all around you, you know — that’s Magda, spitting on her rag before she polishes her boots. That’s Erenn rummaging around for a needle under the bunk to darn socks with. That’s Haft making indignant noises because he’s found Tiny asleep in his boot again.” She grins. “I don’t know it’s — it’s nice. It feels — sort of, safe, I guess.”

Lanisen hmms softly, halfway to wistful. “Sounds nice, you say it like that.”

Megren wrinkles her nose. “It’s not for everyone, I know. Anyway, you have the same with the dogs, I expect.”

Lanisen narrows one eye and shakes his head, making an ‘mm’ sound of disagreement. “Dogs’re… it’s a different sort of attention you have to pay ’em, I think.”

Megren nods. “Maybe.”

Lanisen says, “They’re easier than people, too.”

Megren screws up her face disbelievingly.

Lanisen shrugs, a little defensive.

Megren says, “Well, not for me, anyway.”

Lanisen ohs. “For me they are,” he says after a pause.

Megren lifts a shoulder, not entirely pleased with this assertion, but not wishing to make an argument of it.

Lanisen glances at her, and then away. He picks up the cube and rolls yellow.

Megren says, “All right. Tell me something you’ve been hoping for.”

Lanisen says, “Spring.”

Megren says, “Ha. That’s waiting, not hoping.”

Lanisen says, “Tell that to them across the mountains.”

Megren says, “We don’t live across the mountains.”

Lanisen wrinkles his nose at her. “What’s the difference between waitin’ and hopin’, then?”

Megren says, “Hoping you don’t know if it’ll come.”

Lanisen says, “I hope…” There’s an odd, conflicted look on his face for a second, as if he’s considering and discarding several different answers. Finally, he says, “I hope Kirb either proposes or gives up /real/ soon.”

Megren nods. “Do you know her?”

Lanisen says, “Just by sight. She don’t come around much.”

Megren says, “That doesn’t seem like much of a good sign.”

Lanisen says, “S’pose not. He don’t seem to mind.”

Megren pushes her mouth to the side. “Well, I suppose he knows better than me.”

Lanisen says, “I wish I–” He stops. “Danall keeps hinting how I should take over when he retires.”

Megren asks, “You don’t want to?”

Lanisen snorts and shifts, pulling up his knee again. “I don’t ruddy know, some days I do.”

Megren nods.

Lanisen says, “Wouldn’t be a bad life.”

Megren asks, “What would be a good life?”

Lanisen says, “I dunno. I never really let myself think about it before, and now it’s like I don’t know… how.”

Megren asks, “How to think about it?”

Lanisen says, “Yeah. That doesn’t make sense, sorry.”

Megren takes a breath. “No, I — I think I understand.”

Lanisen pauses. “I like what I’m doin’ now but it’s, there’s more to the job for the master of hounds, he has to go on hunts with the dogs. I don’t think I like hunts much.”

Megren asks, “Doesn’t Danall have children?”

Lanisen says, “Yeah, two.”

Megren says, “So whatever Kirb does, it’s not like if you stepped out you’d be leaving the job with no one to fill it.”

Lanisen says, “Kirb ain’t much interested in steady working these days.”

Megren says, “His girl better be, then, if he’s expecting to settle down.”

Lanisen snorts again. He rubs his forehead and yawns.

Megren says, “I think…”

Lanisen hms?

Megren says, “I think… you’re in a good place now. Food, people who want to see you succeed. You could afford to start thinking about what you want, if you wanted to.”

Lanisen goes quiet to think this over.

Megren says, “I would have never have thought to be a knight if Sir Darrin hadn’t suggested it, because… I think I felt similar. I didn’t… know how, I guess. I still mostly don’t, but I think it’s, maybe important to try, anyway.”

Lanisen says, “Yeah. Maybe.”

Megren wrinkles her nose. “For you, I think it is.”

Lanisen glances at her. He half-smiles and looks away and says, “I’ll do my best.”

Megren asks, “Will you?”

Lanisen doesn’t seem to know how to answer that.

Megren tilts her head and clicks her tongue. “All right. Good enough for now.”

Lanisen says, confused, “All right.”

Megren says, “Don’t expect me to drop it forever, though.”

Lanisen warns, “I’m not sortin’ out the rest of my life this week.”

Megren says, “Next week, then.”

Lanisen makes a noncommittal face.

Megren says more seriously. “Not the rest of your life. Just something.”

Lanisen shrugs uncomfortably and looks away.

Megren flicks the cube onto blue.

Lanisen’s eyes rest on the cube while he thinks. “If you weren’t gonna be a knight, or a guard, what would you want to be?”

Megren says, “Well, a hunter I suppose.”

Lanisen wrinkles up his nose at this easy answer. “What if not that?”

Megren says, “Um? That’s all my skills. A fletcher, maybe.”

Lanisen says, “What if you could learn somethin’ new, anything new, what would you want to do then?”

Megren pushes her mouth to the side. “Maybe a physician’s helper. Or, I can’t say I’d mind learning to sail. Though I know even less about the sea than I do about medicine. But I guess there’d have to be a reason for doing it, sailing. Or I’d get lost-feeling.”

Lanisen tips his head at her thoughtfully. “Hmm. I could see that.”

Megren says, “I’m pretty happy with trying to be a knight.”

Lanisen says, “‘S just a what-if.”

Megren nods thoughtfully, like she’s still trying to think what might be a better answer.

Lanisen says, “You’d make a good healer, too. You’re good at people.”

Megren says, “Maybe I’ll lean that way if the knighthood doesn’t work out. Sir Chal’s worked with me a little on what he knows.”

Lanisen makes a face like he thinks this very unlikely, but he says, “Sir Chal does both?”

Megren says, “He does field medicine. Like, if he’d been there when we got Aaron, he’d’ve known better what to do about Sir Colin. Figure out what needs to be done right away before we can get them to the regular physician, sort of thing.”

Lanisen shifts a little gingerly to sit cross-legged, his forehead furrowed in consideration. “That sounds… like somethin’ that would be real useful.”

Megren says, “I bet he’d be willing to teach you if you wanted to learn.”

Lanisen chews on the inside of his lip. “Maybe I’ll… I’ll ask him, maybe.”

Megren says, “It’s good to know — really good. The difference between surviving and not sometimes, or between functioning and not, anyway.”

Lanisen says, “Yeah, it’s–” He rubs his shoulder and glances at her ruefully. “I’m not liable to be any use with a sword any time soon, but if I knew that sort of thing maybe I could… I dunno.”

Megren says, “It’s a place to start while you’re working on the rest.”

Lanisen says again, “I’ll ask him, maybe.”

Megren nods, looking liable to push that along.

Lanisen squints at her and looks away. He puts his palm on the floor again to feel the warmth.

Megren nudges the cube toward him.

Lanisen picks up the cube, balances it on one corner, and flicks it with his fingernail. It spins and skitters crazily and lands green side up.

Megren says, “Trick rolling now, huh.” She taps her lip. “Hmmm… Did you ever have some place that was all your own as a child?””

Lanisen laughs a little, pulling up both knees. “Ahh, there was… um, down the hill a little ways from the house there was, I dunno who used to live there or when but there was another house, I mean, there used to be. It didn’t have a roof but it still had, mm, about two and a half walls.”

Megren asks, “What, like rotting away?”

Lanisen says, “No, no, they were stone, they’d just sort of mostly fallen down. But, um, there were bushes? I think lilacs, they had white flowers in the spring. They were growin’ real close to one of the walls but I could fit between, and I could hide there when I wanted, until I got too big.”

Megren says, “Sir Darrin likes lilacs, I think.”

Lanisen says, “Name me a flower he don’t like.”

Megren looks stumped.

Lanisen chortles. “‘S what I thought.”

Megren lifts a finger. “Wait!”

Lanisen looks expectant.

Megren says triumphantly, “Pokeweed. –I think.”

Lanisen blinks. “Pokeweed? Why?”

Megren says, “Smells.”
Megren says thoughtfully, “It’s not much of a flower, though; I don’t know if it counts.”

Lanisen says defensively, “It’s pretty, though. And you can make ink out of the berries.”

Megren says, “I’ll be sure to give him your defense.”

Lanisen says, “Yeah, yeah.”

Megren adds, “Oh! And stinkweed, the same.”

Lanisen says dismissively, “Well. /Stinkweed/.” He shifts to flop on his stomach for better appreciation of the warm floor, then makes a face and sits back up when he realizes he can’t see Megren over the table.

Megren asks, “Wasn’t it dangerous?”

Lanisen asks, “What?”

Megren says, “The falling down house.”

Lanisen says, “Oh.” He shrugs. “There wasn’t much left of it, and what was left was pretty sturdy. We weren’t climbin’ on it or anything.”

Megren makes a thoughtful noise and nods. “It sounds pretty.”

Lanisen says, a little wistfully, “It was. ‘Specially in the spring.” He scoots back to lean against the wall nearest the oven. “What about you, did you have any favorite hiding places?”

Megren says, “Um, the entire Archenland forest? Ha.”

Lanisen says, “Haa.” He tilts his head at her. “C’mon, didn’t you have any secret spots that you liked to go back to?”

Megren says, “Well–” she hesitates.

Lanisen’s expression slips and goes slightly uncertain. “If it’s– you don’t have to–”

Megren pushes her hair behind her ear. “No, it’s — there’s a little valley with a lake and an island, it’s hard to get to, I’ve never seen –” she takes a breath. “–a… sign of anyone else having discovered it. I didn’t find it until I was a bit older, though.”

Lanisen studies her a little anxiously.

Megren says, “It’s pretty. I don’t know. There’s trees.”

Lanisen pauses, then offers, “I bet it’s real quiet.”

Megren says, “A lot of birds. And sometimes friendly wildlife because there aren’t hunters there.”

Lanisen takes a small breath at this. “Like what?”

Megren says, “Deer. A fox family. I’ve seen some signs of big cats but I’ve never actually seen one.”

Lanisen asks, “Friendly foxes?”

Megren says, “I mean, not shy ones, anyway.”

Lanisen bites his lower lip and grins faintly. “I can see why you kept it secret,” he says after a quiet pause.

Megren squints an eye.

Lanisen shrugs.

Megren drops her eyes and confesses after a pause, “I took Sir Darrin.”

Lanisen says, “Oh.” He pauses, a little awkwardly, and doesn’t seem to know where to look. “/Almost/ secret, then. ‘S not like he’s gonna go hunting there and ruin it.”

Megren says, “Yeah.”

Lanisen pauses again and rubs the back of his neck. “Sorry.”

Megren tucks her hair behind her ear and says hastily, “It’s, there’s nothing to be sorry — I just thought he’d like it, you know. I took you to that copse with the box.” She says the last in equating tones.

Lanisen shifts at this and looks slightly distressed. “That’s, that’s not– no, I didn’t mean–” He stops and moistens his lips. “Um, I only– it, it seems private, so I’m sorry for–”

Megren shakes her head. “It’s, I could have not said, if I’d chosen to.”

Lanisen pauses, then lifts his shoulders a little and nods.

Megren looks introspective and a little embarrassed or perhaps self-reprimanding for a moment longer, and then she hides the expression by picking up her teacup to drink from it and flicking the cube onto purple with her other hand.

Lanisen looks at the cube for a long moment, then shifts and looks away, asking, “What’s your favorite sort of flower?”

Megren tucks her hair behind her ear, setting her cup down. “Um, the ruffly kind. Poppies, or there’s one in the queen’s garden, I don’t know what it’s called. Or snowdrops and crocus. Those aren’t ruffly; I just like that they come first.”

Lanisen smiles, listening without looking at her, then objects, “Poppies ain’t ruffly.”

Megren says, “What? Yes they are.”

Lanisen squints.

Megren asks, “Fine, how would you describe them?”

Lanisen says, “I dunno. Petal-y.”

Megren squints an eye, skeptical this time. “All right. I like “petal-y” flowers, then.”

Lanisen grins. “They can be ruffly if you want them to be,” he concedes graciously.

Megren says, “Thanks, I’m sure.”

Lanisen’s grin broadens.

Megren says, “What’s yours? Something not petal-y, I suppose.”

Lanisen says, “What? I dunno.”

Megren asks, “Lilac?”

Lanisen says, “Sure, I guess.” He pauses. “The one in the queen’s garden in the tower, the one that’s climbing, with the white flowers?”

Megren says, “Jasmine.”

Lanisen says, “I like that one.”

Megren says, “Me, too.”

Lanisen says, “I like how it has the petals all furly. And it smells nice.”

Megren says, “Yeah, I like the smell.”

Lanisen draws and releases a breath, looking at the cube.

Megren says, “We don’t have to keep on.”

Lanisen admits, “I’m kinda tired.”

Megren pushes his cube toward him and reaches for his cup to stack it in hers. “Me too.”

Lanisen tucks the cube back into its pocket in his satchel. “Thanks.”

Megren sets the cups aside and lifts the table to disassemble it and reassemble it at normal height in the corner where it belongs.

Lanisen watches with some interest as this is done. He reaches for the regular-height legs and hands them over as they are needed.

Megren fits them neatly into the table and tucks the short legs away in a clay vessel underneath, where most of the hut’s tools seems to belong.

Lanisen fusses over his bed a little, straightening and aligning the blankets, then crawls into it and pulls the covers to his chin.

Megren unburies her book, giving it a somewhat reluctant expression.

Lanisen gets himself comfortably settled, his back to the wall. He looks at Megren’s book for a moment, then asks, “What’s it about?”

Megren says, “A wheat farmer who has to go avenge his loved one’s death-by-dragon.”

Lanisen comments, “Sounds thrilling.”

Megren says, “/I/ never met a wheat farmer that could pick up a sword and use it right off.”

Lanisen says, off-hand and lofty, “Oh, I know loads.”

Megren says, “Ah. Well, you see, experience isn’t everything, then.”

Lanisen says, “I mean, I didn’t say what for…”

Megren squints an eye at him and wrinkles her nose amicably.

Lanisen grins, coiling up an armful of blanket for something to hold. “If you–” He stops to yawn. “If you want to say I made you put out the lamp and you couldn’t read, I won’t squeal.”

Megren grins back, appreciatively. “No, it’s all right. I’ll go to bed soon.”

Lanisen says sleepily, “Well, don’t stay up too late.”

Megren says, “I won’t.”

Lanisen squirms around a little more and ends up in an odd half on his side, half on his front position that doesn’t seem like it could possibly be comfortable, then shuts his eyes. Shortly he is breathing peacefully.

Megren reads for a respectable length of time before closing her book and dousing the extra lantern.

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